My Lavalamp

For our living room, I wanted to create a new lamp which isn’t as static as most other lamps, something dynamic but nothing too intrusive.
I was also interested in individually addressable led strips for quite some time, so I started prototyping in last year’s late summer. In december, I finished this project, and called it lavalamp after the classic decorative lamp with rising blobs of fluid which was invented in the 60s.

Lavalamp Show

The lamp uses LEDs for its lighting, there are 576 individually addressable LEDs used, which shine in four directions. The lamp can produce dynamic patterns and effects. There’s a web interface I can use to change its effect, but it also reacts to its surroundings, steered by Home Assistant, my home automation platform of choice. This means that the lamp is automatically switched off when we go to bed, leave the house or want to watch a movie. It can also be voice-controlled.


The ESP8266 microchip running the LEDs

The lamp’s electronic components are an ESP8266 microchip and WS2812b addressable leds. (This means I can change the color and brightness of every single LED individually.) I’ve written custom firmware for the microcontroller (you can find it on my github page), it basically runs a small webserver on its Wifi interface, offering configuration data in JSON format to a mobile-friendly JavaScript application which can run in a browser on your phone. The LEDs are driven by the FastLED library, which is a fantastic piece of software offering fast mathematical functions and low-level data protocols to manipulate the LEDs in my lamp.
With this setup, I achieve 50 frames per second for most of the effects that I’m using in the lamp, so the animations all look smoothly and feel quite natural. I think that’s really impressive, given the rather low specs of the microchip and its price point at around 2€.

The case of the lamp has a wooden foot, sitting around a concrete block which holds the lamp firmly in place and provides some isolation in case anything goes wrong in the electronic parts. The light from the LEDs is diffused through frosted glass, giving it a nice glow.

Building the lamp was a fun project. I didn’t give myself a deadline, but rather took all the time I needed spread out over a period of four months to get all the individual parts in place. I had to learn quite some new tricks, which made this project really interesting. From cutting and building the wooden case to soldering and programming the microchip. In the end, I’m really happy how the lamp turned out. It brings live into our place, while usually not being too distracting.
For further improvements, I built a USB port into the foot of the lamp, so I can just plug in my laptop and add new effects or tweak existing ones.
I’m not quite done with it yet, I want to improve the existing effects on the lamp further, but I’ll also probably build a separate unit that analyses the music playing in our living room to make the lavalamp music-reactive.

Desk lamp

desk lamp with mirror behind
desk lamp with mirror behind

Some time ago, I wanted to make my own desk lamp. It should provide soft, bright task lighting above my desk, no sharp shadows that could cover part of my work area, but also some atmospheric lighting around the desk in my basement office. The lamp should have a natural look around it, but since I made it myself, I also didn’t mind exposing some of its internals.

SMD5050 LED strips

I had oak floor boards that I got from a friend (thanks, Wendy!) lying around. which I used as base material for the lamp. I combined these with some RGBW led strips that I had lying around, and a wireless controller that would allow me to connect the lamp to my Philips Hue lighting system, that I use throughout the house to control the lights. I sanded the wood until it was completely smooth, and then gave it an oild finish to make it durable and give it a more pronounced texture.

Fixed to the ceiling
Fixed to the ceiling
Internals of the desk lamp
Internals of the desk lamp

The center board is covered in 0.5mm aluminium sheets to dissipate heat from the LED strips (again, making them last longer) and provide some extra diffusion of the light. This material is easy to work with, and also very suitable to stick the led strips to. For the light itself, I used SMD5050 LED strips that can produce warm and cold white light, as well as RGB colors. I put 3 rows of strips next to each other to provide enough light. The strips wrap around at the top, so light is not just shining down on my desk, but also reflecting from walls and ceiling around it. The front and back are another piece of wood to avoid looking directly into the LEDs, which would be distractive, annoying when working and also quite ugly. I attached a front and back board as well to the lamp, making it into an H shape.

Light reflects nicely from surrounding surfaces
Light reflects nicely from surrounding surfaces

The controller (a Gledopto Z-Wave controller, that is compatible with Philips Hue) is attached to the center board as well, so I just needed to run 2 12V wires to the lamp. I was being a bit creative here, and thought “why not use the power cables also to have the lamp hanging from the ceiling?”. I used coated steel wire, which I stripped here and there to have power run through steel hooks screwed into the ceiling to supply the lamp with power while also being able to adjust its height. This ended up creating a rather clean look for the whole lamp and really brought the whole thing together.

IKEA Trådfri first impressions

Warm white lights
Warm white lights
Since I’ve been playing with various home automation technologies for some time already, I thought I’d also start writing about it. Be prepared for some blogs about smart lighting, smart home and related technologies.

Most recently, I’ve gotten myself a few items from IKEA new product range of smartlight. It’s called trådfri (Swedish for wireless). These lights can be remote-controlled using a smartphone app or other kinds of switches. These products are still fairly young, so I thought I’d give them a try. Overall. the system seems well thought-through and feels fairly high-end. I didn’t notice any major annoyances.

First Impressions

Trådfri hub and dimmer
Trådfri hub and dimmer

My first impressions are actually pretty good. Initially, I bought a hub which is used to control the lights centrally. This hub is required to be able to use the smartphone app or update the firmware of any component (more on that later!). If you just want to use one of the switches or dimmers that come separately, you won’t need the hub.
Setting everything up is straight-forward, the documentation is fine and no special skills are needed to install these smartlights. Unpacking unfortunately means the usual fight with blister packaging (will it ever stop?), but after that, a few handy surprises awaited me. What I liked:
Hub hides cables
Hub hides cables

  • The light is nice and warm. The GU10 bulbs i got give 400 lumens and are dimmable. For my taste, they could be a bit darker at the lower end of the scale, but overall, the light feels comfy warm and not too cold, but not too yellow either. The GU10 bulbs I got are spec’ed at 2700 Kelvin. No visible flickering either.
  • Trådfri components are relatively inexpensive. A hub, dimmer and 4 warm-white GU10 bulbs set me back about 75€. It is way cheaper than comparable smartlights, for example Philips Hue. As needs are fairly individual exact prices are best looked up on IKEA’s website by yourself.
  • The hub has a handy cable storage function, you can roll up excessive cable inside the hub — a godsend if you want to have the slightest chance of preventing a spaghetti situation.
  • The hub is USB-powered, 1A power supply suffices, so you may be able to plug it into the USB port of some other device, or share a power supply.
  • The dimmer can be removed from the cradle. The cradle can be stuck on any flat surface, it doesn’t need additional cabling, and you can easily take out the dimmer and carry it around.
  • The wireless technology used is ZigBee, which is a standard thing and also used by other smarthome technologies, most notably, Philips Hue. I already own (and love) some Philips Hue lights, so in theory I should be able to pair up the Trådfri lights with my already existing Hue lights. (This is a big thing for me, I don’t want to have different lighting networks around in my house, but rather concert the whole lighting centrally.)

Pairing IKEA Trådfri with Philips Hue

Let’s call this “work in progress”, meaning, I haven’t yet been able to pair a Trådfri bulb with my Hue system. I’ll dig some more into it, and I’m pretty sure I’ll make it work at some point. If you’re interested in combining Hue and Trådfri bulbs, I’ll suffice with a couple of pointers:

If you want to try this yourself, make sure you get the most recent lights from the store (the clerk was helpful to me and knowledgable, good advice there!). You’ll also likely need a hub at least for updating the firmware. If you’re just planning to use the bulbs together with a Hue system, you won’t need the hub later on, so that may seem like 30€ down the drain. Bit of a bummer, but depending on how many lights you’ll be buying, given the difference in price between IKEA and Philips, it may well be worth it.

\edit: After a few more tries, the bulb is now paired to the Philips Hue system. More testing will ensue, and I’ll either update this post, or write a new one.